Category Archives: Estate Planning

Three Reasons to Hire an Estate Planning Attorney in Maryland

estate planning Maryland

An estate planning attorney helps you understand the state and federal laws pertaining to how your assets will be inventoried, dispersed and taxed upon death. In this context, though, an “estate” can be any and all of the items that the deceased individual, or decedent, owns at the time of his or her death. An estate planning attorney advises you on legal considerations and helps implement your plan so in the event of your demise you can be sure your assets are handled the way you intended. Be it with a Will or a Trust, a skilled lawyer is a must to make things go well. Here are three reasons why an estate planning attorney will save you a lot of sleepless nights:

  1. Taxes, Taxes, Taxes

One of the chief concerns an individual will have for any surviving beneficiaries, especially if it is subject to taxes. An estate planning attorney can advise you on planning techniques to reduce your estate taxes, which are based on an asset threshold. In addition, there is a 10% inheritance tax if a beneficiary is a niece, nephew, distant relation, or non-relative. Finally, a skilled estate planning attorney can advise you on the income tax implications your death might have on your estate or your loved ones.

  1. Probate v. Non-Probate

A skilled estate planning attorney will advise you on the consequences of how you title your assets. Some assets require probate and others do not. They can help you decide if you want to hold assets jointly with a loved one, use beneficiaries, anticipate probating an estate, or even draft a trust to avoid probate altogether. A Maryland Estate Planning attorney can also assist you in creating a trust, to avoid probate, or a Will, if probate makes sense for you. Assets that are eligible for probate would be anything titled in the decedent’s name, also including property that the decedent owns jointly with another individual (known as “tenants in common”). These items could range anywhere from a vehicle, home, boat, etc. An estate planning attorney can explain all of this clearly to help you decide how to best handle your financial affairs.

  1. Personal Representative

An estate planning attorney also can draft a Will that names someone to be in charge of your estate and help plan for contingencies in the event of your inability to update your will, or their inability to be in charge. Absent planning ahead, if you have no Will, or the parties named cannot serve, you are stuck with the default rules on intestacy to determine your Personal Representative, which defaults to your next of kin and promote gridlock.

In the scope of challenges every individual must face in life, death is unavoidable. With that being said, by hiring an estate planning attorney, one can rest easy at night with peace of mind in knowing their assets are protected by an expertly done and well-conceived estate plan. As the saying goes: a good conscience is a soft pillow. A knowledgeable attorney can assist you in making sure your estate plan is done in accordance with Maryland law with minimal headaches. If you need help with your estate plan, get in touch today by calling (410) 848-4444, or to see what others have said about us, please read our client testimonials.

The Probate Process in Maryland

When former Maryland governor and mayor of Baltimore, William Donald Schaefer, died in 2011, he left $1.4 million to a civic fund in his name.  The Baltimore Community Foundation administers the William Donald Schaefer Civic Fund whose purpose is to make several grants each year for neighborhood improvement and beautification.  Schaefer appointed long- time friend and Schaefer chief of staff, Lainy Lebow-Sachs, as executor of his estate.  Lebow-Sachs knew her old boss well and understood his interests.  Schaefer’s involvement with the fund dated back to 1971 during his first term as mayor. “He took a keen interest in the operation of the civic fund, touring neighborhoods to see the progress of projects and sitting in on the grant selection process” said Lebow-Sachs. Schaefer made a good choice in selecting his executor.  Lebow-Sachs ensured that his wishes were carried out properly.

After a person dies (called the decedent) and leaves property for others, the process for distributing the property is called probate.  If the decedent had a will, then the probate process begins when anyone who has the Will files it along with several other items with the Register of Wills.

The type of estate forms depends on the value of the estate.  A regular estate has property valued over $50,000 — if a spouse is the sole heir, then the value of a regular estate is over $100,000. A small estate is generally valued at $50,000 or less — however, if a spouse is the sole heir small estate forms should be used if the value is $100,000 or less.  The small estate probate procedure is less complicated than that of the regular estate and usually takes less time.

Although the probate process in Maryland is fairly straightforward, it can be complicated by several factors, such as disputes or jointly held property. Our experienced Carroll County attorneys can provide you with quality legal services in estate administration.

Get Your House in Order: Update Your Will and Advance Directives

The Boston Marathon tragedy serves as a reminder that while we can’t control our destiny, we can take steps to prepare ourselves and loved ones for the worst.

Advance directives provide us with an opportunity to state our preferences for health care decisions in the event of our incapacity or pending death. It is a good idea to keep your Maryland Last Will and Testament, Living Trust, and Health Care Directive up to date.

The importance of a Last Will and Testament

  • Choice of heirs. Preparing a Last Will and Testament or Living Trust ensures that your property passes to your intended beneficiaries.  Without a will, the Maryland laws of intestate succession dictate who inherits the property titled in your name alone.
  • Choice of fiduciaries. You can decide who is in charge of handling the distribution of your assets, rather than leaving these decisions to Maryland law.
  • Disputes among heirs. You can decide how and where you want your remains to be put to rest and choose who serves as your executor (the person who ensures that your wishes are carried out). Planning ahead reduces disputes among heirs and allows for less stress during traumatic times.
  • Guardians for your minor children. You may appoint guardians to care for your minor children in your stead, rather than relatives making claims for custody and control of children’s finances.

The benefits of preparing an Advance Directive for Health Care Decisions

  • Choice of life sustaining medical procedures. Preparing an Advanced Directive for health care decisions (also known as a living will) allows you to share your decisions about ending or prolonging your life in different situations.
  • Appoint a representative. This valuable document indicates your preference as to who has the power to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to do so.

Estate planning, while not pleasant to think about, is a necessary part of protecting your family. Everyone, even young people, should prepare these documents.  Carroll County wills, estates, trusts and elder law attorneys at the law firm of Hoffman, Comfort, Offutt, Scott & Halstad, LLP have years of experience and are ready to guide you through your planning process.

Our Aging Population: Addressing Its Health Care Needs

Researchers from Rutgers University predict that in the next four decades the Untied States will experience a shift in its population demographics.  Based on the results of a multi-disciplined study which included researchers with backgrounds in mathematical, behavioral  and social sciences, engineering and physics, the report predicts that the ratio of people over age 65 to people between ages 20 – 64 will increase by 80%. People will also live longer — to a life expectancy of 84.5 years.  Most people today live to age 78.

As the population ages, more families will seek ways to keep their elderly loved ones in their own community and out of senior facilities that people often associate with inefficiency and high incidences of injuries to its residents.  Statistics show that about 1 in 20 of  the estimated 1.5 million residents at nursing homes suffer abuse or neglect as a result of understaffed or poorly trained care providers.

On the other hand, seniors residing in their own homes fare better than they do in institutions. Experts say that there are a number of benefits to home care over the care provided in an institution:

  • One-on-one care — seniors receive personal attention from a home health aide or skilled registered nurse as opposed to being one of a number of patients at an institution
  • Living in familiar surroundings — moving can be very difficult for elderly people, especially those who have Alzheimer’s or other maladies.

Home health care services can be costly and Medicare does not cover nonmedical services.  However, long term care insurance may reimburse for some services.  With careful planning you can provide the care that best fits the needs of your aging loved ones.

If you have questions about long-term planning or suspect that an loved one is a victim of elder abuse, contact the dedicated attorneys at Hoffman, Comfort, Offutt, Scott & Halstad, LLP.

Why It’s Never Too Early To Prepare Your Estate Plan

We all know that accidents and illnesses happen. But when younger people pass away or become incapacitated, their loved ones are often left to deal with complex legal and financial concerns at a time when they are already overwhelmed by grief and loss.

A few months ago in Poughkeepsie, NY, Shawn and Patricia Wonderly were killed when their car was hit during a police chase, leaving their eight and seven-year-old children injured, traumatized and parentless. It is doubtful they expected to leave their children so abruptly or so soon. Nor is it likely they had all their affairs in order at the time.

When younger people leave behind a disorganized estate and no instructions as to what to do regarding medical decisions, management of assets and care of children, the feelings of loved ones may become secondary to masses of paperwork and entirely preventable litigation. Take Terry Schiavo, a young woman who spent more than seven years in a persistently vegetative state, while her husband and parents engaged in a heated, widely publicized legal battle regarding the termination of her life support. Her signature on a single document could have easily prevented this battle.

Estate planning is just as important for a young person as it is for an older one. A basic estate plan assures that you are the one who makes the following decisions for yourself:

  • Who will handle your money if you are incapacitated
  • Who will make health care decisions for you if you’re not able to
  • Who will handle your estate
  • Who will receive your assets and personal possessions
  • Who will raise your minor children, and how the money you leave for their upbringing and education will be managed

All of these choices should be put down in writing now, through an Advanced Directive for Health Care Decisions (Living Will), a Durable Power of Attorney for Assets and Finances, and a Last Will and Testament (with or without a Testamentary Trust).  A lawyer can also assist in reducing or eliminating taxes in larger estates. Our estate planning attorneys can offer suggestions and options that will make the process relatively simple, straightforward and painless.